It was a first last week as the Journal invited all three local school superintendents to our offices for a sit down. I know they were impressed, new to town as two of them are, when they couldn’t find our Oak Park Avenue office which is currently without signage as our façade improvement continues into its 18th year. And then they were wowed when, because our main stairwell was having its lovely 1980s Menards wood siding removed, I took them out the back door, past the Dumpster and up the outside stairs to our plush conference room.

I’m pretty sure I heard one of them say quietly, “What kind of hick operation is this anyhow,” though it is just possible he was saying, “Mighty pleased to meet you.”

In any case we had the three of them – Thomas Hagerman, head of River Forest’s elementary schools and the veteran, at two years, of the group; Steven Isoye, the incoming superintendent at Oak Park and River Forest High School; and Al Roberts, the new leader at Oak Park’s elementary schools – in our clutches for two hours.

A few first impressions of these gentlemen individually and collectively. There seemed to be genuine rapport among them. Though Roberts and Isoye have only been in their posts six weeks, the three of them have already talked multiple times, the two new guys jointly attended a conference in Springfield for new superintendents.

This may seem superficial but it isn’t. Past combinations of local superintendents have never really clicked on a personal or working relationship basis. And it has shown in the lack of genuine coordination and communication between the districts. The combination of simultaneous new arrivals and the generally dour circumstances of the moment may engender shared efforts and collaboration.

They pledged that they would meet informally monthly, though outside the earshot of Journal reporters I’d imagine. And Isoye and Roberts said the current lawsuit between the districts and the village over TIF funds would not impact their relationship. Though what else are they going to say? And there may have been some leg kicking going on under the table.

Roberts, Hagerman and Isoye are at differing points in their careers and come to the posts with their own temperaments and skill sets.

At 62, Al Roberts is presumably making the charge a last time. But be clear that he is making a charge. Very congenial, he is also filled with energy, ideas and plans. Things will change in District 97 schools and the changes won’t come after stupefying five-year planning processes. “Ready, fire, aim,” he quotes from business change agent Tom Peters.

Isoye is wry and self-deprecating. He brings a scientist’s appreciation for observation and data analysis. But after two meetings with Isoye I don’t worry that either predilection will be a cover for inaction. He wants to use those skills to bring people along a path. This is his first tour as a superintendent and he will take some time to make his assessments. But there is a fire burning in this guy. You don’t become state teacher of the year and principal of the year without that passion.

Hagerman is interesting. The most buttoned down of the trio, he is also in the strongest position. The River Forest elementary and middle schools are top notch. He arrived on the scene to replace an, at best, mediocre superintendent who had herself replaced an icon in Tyra Manning. So River Forest aspires to a strong and capable school leader who will actively innovate from a strong base. So far Hagerman gets high marks.

Three superintendents in one room might have the potential for showing off or showing up. Didn’t happen during our two hour conversation. These are bright men with passion for education and happy to share a stage.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...